Roughly twelve years following their first feature films, these legendary directors delivered the following:
Fritz Lang: M
Alfred Hitchcock: The Lady Vanishes
Stanley Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Twelve years after Following, Christopher Nolan invites us to dream along with him through Inception. And while it’s operating on different levels than the Lang and Kubrick pieces, it shares in Hitchcock’s sense of dark fun and could easily be considered Nolan’s most ambitious and devilishly clever piece of work to date. He’s an auteur with a full blessing from the studio and his audience, and the project he devised in this rarefied air is awe-inspiring. Though there are some minor flaws, if you can’t find a way to overlook them and latch onto something meaningful in at least one layer of the dreams on display, then you have no business sitting in a darkened theater watching movies.
Christopher Nolan’s decked-out and high-concept new film brings new meaning to the idea of stealing ideas. In his futuristic universe, technology has developed where you can enter the mind of another through dream invasions and steal their ideas. It’s espionage…it’s dangerous…but what’s even more intriguing is the idea of diving deep into dreams within dreams and implanting an idea that can then spread like a virus and alter the shape of one’s universe. Whoever implanted this idea into Nolan’s mind, we thank you.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, in a role that may play too close to his recent turn in Shutter Island for some) is the ultimate extractor of ideas. But when a heist goes wrong, the person who was originally targeted (Ken Watanabe) turns the table on Cobb and asks him to implant an idea into the mind of his competitor (Cillian Murphy) that will destroy his greatest business rival. Cobb assembles a cracker-jack team (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page in two pieces of stunt casting that pay off in spades, as well as Tom Hardy as both the muscle and the comic relief) but no matter how well prepared they are, there’s a wildcard invading the dreams (in the form of the hauntingly seductive and menacing Marion Cotillard) who runs the risk of sabotaging the whole operation. To wade any deeper into the purposely convoluted and multi-layered plot would be a disservice to those who want to view the film with as little foreshadowing as possible.
In order to implant the destructive idea, the team must go dangerously deeper into the subconscious of the dreamer, and it’s all wonderfully explained at each crucial point (and some might find these explanations too long-winded) so that the audience is aware that the ultimate dreamer is Nolan, and he’s invited us into his most outlandish and exciting of dreams. As they (and we) dive deeper and deeper, each layer seems inspired by Nolan’s favorite films, from a Kubrick-esque hotel where gravity is defied to a ski-lodge headquarters where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seems to be running in an infinite loop to a an entire city on the edge of the world that is collapsing. Nolan lets us in on his secrets at every turn…only to turn the tables on us in the end and leave us to wonder…what if? Meanwhile, Nolan’s own team makes sure we enjoy every step of the way as Hans Zimmer’s score pulses through our blood, Wally Pfister’s cinematography stuns on every level, and Lee Smith’s editing makes all the interwoven moments come together so seamlessly.
I’ve been saying it for years now; Christopher Nolan is the new Fritz Lang. If The Dark Knight was his Testament of Dr. Mabuse, then Inception is his Metropolis. Whereas Lang looked at the grim prospects of technology and industry continuing to move outward and rape the natural world and oppress the masses, here in the 21st century, Nolan is exploring the dangers of technology that continues to move inward and invade the privacy of the privileged. What could be more horrific than the idea of a social network that invades your dreams and steals your thoughts…or even worse, implants an idea in your subconscious that could ruin your life? Woven throughout his works from Following to Inception are an overriding noir sensibility, the flipped narrative conventions, the mysteries and magic of storytelling/dreaming and the lies we tell ourselves, and the tortured anti-hero searching for redemption. They say that the greatest of auteurs make the same film over and over. Inception is Nolan playing on his most personal themes and injecting them with cinematic steroids.
Only time will tell if Inception is Nolan’s masterpiece. The dream-logic he employs will be under harsh scrutiny, minor quibbles will be magnified, and repeat viewings will never match the initial “Whoa!” factor of seeing it on a blank slate. It’s the type of film I instantly want to watch again and dissect to see if the architecture holds up. It’s only been about an hour since I left the theater…and my head is swimming with ideas. The biggest compliment one could pay a dreamer like Nolan is to say his film will give the audience a bout of insomnia.
When I finally go to sleep, I plan on dreaming of Inception. Don’t wake me up.
Written by David H. Schleicher
This space will be dedicated to all the debate across the blogosphere around Nolan and Inception:
- Kyle Hilliard makes a compelling case for Christopher Nolan being a modern day Alfred Hitchcock.
- Our old pal Jake Cole over at Not Just Movies pens a massive and engrossing tome to the power of Nolan’s vision, the inherent flaws, and the best discussion yet of the soon to be classic “closing shot.”
- Good pal Prakash over at Talking Talkies was apparently inspired by Nolan’s magnum opus to craft what is his best film review to date!
- Jason Marshall at Movies Over Matter offers an energetically mixed review where he argues the film isn’t so deep but still a lot of fun.
- David Cairns delivers a most interesting perception of Nolan and Inception at his Shadowplay blog.
- Theories on what it all meant are being developed at The M0vie Blog — beware of spoilers before heading over.
- Film Fix has some great ideas about the ideas in Nolan’s magnum opus.
- Reel Eclectic isn’t shy about throwing around the word “masterpiece.”
- The Scarlet Sp1der thinks everyone needs to Dream the Impossible Dream.
- At Pop Goes the Culture, Inception is described as a “near perfect mind blow.”
- Meanwhile, self-professed Nolan fanboy Kartik Krishan wonders why he was so confounded.
- Roger Ebert, probably the most unapologetic movie lover amongst big time critics, totally gets it.
- If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the official site. I can’t get enough of that Zimmer score!
And for those who loved the whole Edith Piaf/Marion Cotillard (who played Edith Piaf and won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose) connection — and does that mean anything in the grander scheme of the film? — feast on this and just try waking up before everything folds in on itself: